This Teacher's All In for Our College-Aged Kids

When it comes to helping young adults adapt to life in college, this educator lays all her cards on the table.

Joan Polka, PhD., beloved teacher, sitting at desk, adult ADD banner

If I could have one wish, it would be that students learn to be strong, knowledgeable self-advocates.

Joan Polka, Ph.D., educator and psychologist

"I will do anything that is moral, legal, and ethical to help you," Joan Polka, Ph.D., tells college students at West Chester University, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. As an assistant professor and psychologist, Polka coordinates the student services division, teaching time management, study skills, and self-advocacy to students.

Polka's philosophy is simple: Students should make decisions based on their strengths, while downplaying their weaknesses. For example, Polka advised a student who had trouble with early-morning routines to "stay away from 8 a.m. classes!" and encouraged a student who was a poor note-taker to review instructor notes via Blackboard, an online learning tool.

Teach the Teachers

With over 40 years of experience, Polka shares her wisdom with professors, as well. She emphasizes multiple learning approaches. "These days it is good pedagogy to incorporate multiple teaching styles into the lecture hall." She also suggests that professors be willing to accommodate students, by perhaps giving oral tests instead of written ones. Some professors push back, saying, "If I do that for one student, I will have to do it all for my students." Polka answers, "You wear glasses. How would you like to teach without them for a day?"

Learning self-advocacy is crucial for students. "If I could have one wish, it would be that students learn to be strong, knowledgeable self-advocates." Toward that end, Polka teaches students how to respond to professors who put them on the spot in the classroom. She suggests that students say, "I need a minute to think about that" or "Can I get back to you?" when they are tongue-tied.

Work with Parents

In addition to working with professors and students, Polka meets with parents, explaining what they can do to increase the odds of their child's success. Her advice ranges from not putting too much pressure on their kids -- "College takes as long as it takes; it isn't always a four-year venture" -- to using all available resources on campus. Many resources go unused.

Polka always tells parents to treat coexisting conditions, such as anxiety or depression, before their teen goes to college. If these conditions go untreated, the likelihood of college success diminishes pretty dramatically. Deal with these disorders early, and, chances are, an ADHD child will succeed in college.


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This article appears in the Summer 2012 issue of ADDitude.
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TAGS: ADHD and College, ADHD Accommodations, 504s, IEPs

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